In my early twenties, I went on a first date that went so well, we walked around the city for fourteen hours. I was smitten, he was too. Small problem. He “sort of” already had a girlfriend, and had just been online dating to “take one last look at what was out there before he committed.”
The only way I knew how to respond was “I am putting this absolute bellend in a screenplay” – and here we are today, with Relationshit out in the world.
Had I just written down the actual events, it would have made a painfully boring show. But with a little bit of work, I was able to use this experience to inspire an interesting plot. Here’s what you need to consider in order to do the same.
Is this the right story and the right medium?
If your experience largely took place inside your own head, it may be better suited for literature. If there was a ton of conversation – perhaps it should be a play. Film is a visual medium and needs stories that can be told visually. Only choose film if you want to make use of film’s unique aspects.
The Difference between real life and dramatic storytelling
“Wouldn’t it be so romantic to have a stalker?!” …No. It would be terrifying. What makes for interesting TV would be a deeply stressful life; at the same time, the problems that keep you up at night worrying, probably wouldn’t keep you up all night bingeing an entire season about it.
In real life, you want solutions. For a good story, you want drama. High stakes. Structure.
In film, you should arrive at a satisfying conclusion after a series of twists and turns. This workbook is helpful for beginners, with a beat sheet – also called the Hollywood Formula – starting on page 32.
In TV, you want to keep spinning new problems, you want every answer to ask a new question. Writing The Pilot by Willian Rabkin is my recommendation here.
Really learn dramatic structure and plot your story accordingly.
The higher the stakes, the better: Instead of being rejected from a gig you really wanted and now you’re sad, maybe your character has spent all of their savings and risked their reputation to try for this, and if they fail they won’t be able to afford care for their sick family member.
Notice how people in movies organise meetings without naming time and place? That’s because you want to cut out all filler information and focus tightly on what’s important.
Find the theme
Fear not: Many writers only realise what the “theme” of their script is after they’ve written their first draft. Look at your experience as a narrative – beginning, middle, end – and see if you can find a theme or a lesson that can inspire the rest of your project or create a thread that runs through different storylines.
Relationshit has three characters, each dealing in some way with the idea of “other people” – thus unifying the three plots. Zoe’s love interest is torn between her and his girlfriend, Roman’s long distance girlfriend wants to try an open relationship, June’s girlfriend has a crazy stalker ex.
Macro vs Micro
Instead of using your artistic medium like a journal, look for themes that are revealed in your personal experience and amplify that. This can be done in a big picture way, or you can dramatise your real experience as above.
In Relationshit’s case, two elements I had were “someone becoming attached to someone they just met”, and “someone torn between two lovers.”
I pushed that to the extreme, so that my main character goes to the ends of the earth trying to convince this guy she barely knows that they’re meant for each other, and comically screws up her life in the process. Indecision is, by definition, the most boring thing to watch – so instead, her love interest takes action and finds trouble.
Alternatively, look at the universal theme that’s revealed in your experience and use that as a jumping off point for further exploration. Maybe now you know the true meaning of ambition. Maybe now you understand why someone would dedicate their life to a higher cause.
You don’t have to replicate the details: You just have to replicate the feeling.
If you have inhibitions about your story, it will show. Nobody wants to watch a perfect character make perfect choices, and no real human is a perfect human.
The best creative work is made when the creator gets vulnerable. Write your truth and don’t flinch.